If you are reading this, odds are pretty good you're pretty familiar with Hank Williams, Jr.'s song, "Country Boy Can Survive". (If not, you should check it out online.) Released in 1981, the year I graduated from high school, the lyrics extol the virtues of rugged individualism, personal responsibility, helping others, and patriotism. The lines I occasionally find drifting through my mind, especially when I'm heading out hunting in the pre-dawn darkness, are "I've got a shotgun, a rifle, and a four-wheel drive, and a country boy can survive. Country folks can survive."
If you can relate to an outdoor-oriented, country state-of-mind, then there's a high probability you're driven to hunt like I am and also have a strong inclination to help out others whenever the opportunity arises. What you may not know is there is a way you can combine both passions, hunting deer and helping others. In my home state of Pennsylvania, the program is called Hunters Sharing the Harvest (HSH). More details to follow on the corresponding venison donation programs in Ohio and West Virginia.
Started back in 1991, PA's Hunters Sharing the Harvest is celebrating its 25th anniversary in 2016. Since its inception, HSH has collected over 1,000,000 lbs. of highly nutritious venison, which is correspondingly low in cholesterol. The program has progressively grown to the point where they now have a yearly goal of obtaining 100,000 lbs. of donated venison. (That translates into roughly 3,000 donated whitetails each year.) During the 2015-16 PA deer hunting seasons, 109,750 lbs. of venison was donated, which resulted in 532,800 meals served to hungry men, women, and children across the Commonwealth.
PA’s Hunters Sharing the Harvest is celebrating its 25th anniversary in 2016. Photo courtesy of HSH
The ongoing need is very great, with current estimates indicating 1.8 million people in PA need food assistance. On average, one deer yields 37.5 lbs. of ground venison or 200 meals with 3 oz. portions of this high quality protein source. Participating deer processors can be found across the state and can be located through Hunters Sharing the Harvest's official website: www.sharedeer.org.
Successful deer hunters can take their harvested whitetails to a participating processor, either close to where they hunt or near to home, whatever is more convenient for them. All 67 PA counties participate in HSH, with donated ground venison going from cooperating deer processors to 21 regional food banks. The fresh meat is then redistributed to more than 5,000 local provider charities to be served to those in need in rural and urban communities.
Prior to 2014, hunters were asked to make a $15.00 copay when they donated a deer to the program. That requirement has been eliminated and hunters can now drop off a whole deer at participating processors at no cost. Hunters also have the option of taking their deer to a participating processor and then donating a portion of their deer at no cost. (The hunter will still be responsible for any processing costs associated with the portion of their deer they elect to take home.)
In addition to donating deer, individuals can make tax deductible monetary donations to Hunters Sharing the Harvest, which is a 501C3 nonprofit charitable organization. HSH's well-designed monetary donation forms include the catchy phrase, "Please give a buck to the pot".
Additional information on making monetary donations can be found on the HSH website or by calling: 1-866-474-2141. The HSH website also includes contact information for each county HSH coordinator. Those individuals can answer any questions hunters or donors may have, or they can provide information to individuals who may desire to take a more active volunteer role in the program.
In addition to receiving private donations, HSH receives a PA Dept. of Agriculture grant through the Federal Emergency Food Assistance Program and has secured Bass Pro Shops as a corporate sponsor. Funding primarily goes to reimburse participating deer processors at the rate of $1.35/lb. to cover their time and costs to skin, cut, grind, and package all the ground venison they process for HSH in order to help feed the hungry.
According to Hunters Sharing the Harvest's official literature, there are five simple steps to donate a deer.
Step 1 Enjoy a safe and successful hunt.
Step 2 Carefully field-dress, legally-tag, and report your deer harvest.
Step 3 Take the whole deer to any HSH processor near where you hunt or live.
Step 4 Complete the HSH donor receipt form verifying your donation.
Step 5 Know you just helped feed the hungry in Pennsylvania.
There are similar opportunities for deer hunters in Ohio and West Virginia to help feed the hungry through their hunting efforts. On Page 48 of the Ohio 2016-2017 Hunting & Trapping Regulations, hunters are encouraged to Share the Bounty through three participating programs.
The first is Farmers and Hunters Feeding the Hungry (FHFH) with 66 participating deer processors spread across Ohio. Started in Virginia in 1997, their mission statement says it all: "Passion for the huntCompassion for the hungry!" FHFH also has three participating processors in PA and two in West Virginia. Additional information on FHFH can be found on-line at www.fhfh.org or by calling toll-free: 1-866-438-3434. The second program is through Whitetails Unlimited. Their website is www.whitetailsunlimited.com. Additionally, there is Safari Club International's Sportsmen Against Hunger, which focuses on "sharing nature's bounty with the hungry." Additional information on their program can be found at: www.safariclubfoundation.org.
West Virginia deer hunters can help feed the hungry in the Mountaineer State by participating in Hunters Helping the Hungry (HHH). Organized in 1992, HHH has 16 participating deer processors across West Virginia. Details on how to donate a deer can be obtained on their website: www.wvdnr.gov/Hunting/HHH.shtm or by calling the West Virginia Dept. of Natural Resources at (304) 924-6211. See Page 21 of the West Virginia July 2016 June 2017 Hunting and Trapping Regulations Summary for additional information.
It's finally Fall and we have ample opportunities to hunt deer for the next several months!
After you've harvested the deer you need to provide for your family, why not consider using your additional tags to head back out in pursuit of another one or more deer. You'll be able to further pursue your passion for hunting deer and at the same time, you'll be able to help feed those in need in our communities with tasty and nutritious venison. Now that's a win-win outcome in my book!